From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In 1999, environmental journalist Cone was awarded a Pew fellowship to examine the Arctic paradox: "How," she wondered, "could the Arctic, so innocent, primitive, so natural... be home to the most contaminated people on the planet?" What she discovered is that pollution is as global as the economy, and that industrialized nations—with their "Save the whales!" movements—are poisoning those very whales with chemical drift. In clear, engaging prose, she explains how PCBs leaking from a Chicago electrical transformer accumulate dramatically in sea mammals and people thousands of miles away. Traveling from Greenland to Alaska, she quickly finds that Power Bars and a down parka are inadequate to the Arctic, and that Inuit and Inupiat peoples rely on whales and seals for food and clothing because "nothing else is perfectly suited to their environment." In this sparsely populated territory, scientists have documented the world's swiftest ecosystem crash and mother's milk so chemically contaminated that it "could be classified as hazardous waste." But solutions are hard to find: there are no alternatives to replace contaminated food, it has become harder to ban chemicals in the U.S., and new contaminants are being introduced. Cone's sympathy with the peoples of the Arctic and her admiration for the harsh, beautiful world in which they live make this an inspiring book. And we all carry some level of the same toxins; as one Inuit says, "The chemical threat is the ultimate threat... it reaches everywhere in the world."
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*Starred Review* When we think of the Arctic, we picture a realm as pristine as a diamond, but it has been poisoned with toxic chemicals carried north from the industrialized world via wind and water. So insidious is this invisible invasion, the animals and people of the Arctic "carry more mercury and PCBs in their bodies" than any other living beings on earth. Cone, an award-winning environmental reporter for the Los Angeles Times, recounts her travels throughout the afflicted region in a riveting narrative as notable for its conversational fluency as for the clarity of its alarming information. As she vividly describes her experiences with Arctic hunters, she elucidates how the well-being of circumpolar people has resided for millennia in the animals they hunt and eat. She then chronicles the painstaking work of scientists who discovered that the toxins Arctic dwellers now ingest in traditional foods cause mental impairment, reproductive failure, and weakened immune systems. Cone's title is a variation on Silent Spring, Rachel Carson's seminal 1962 book about the dangers of DDT. Tragically, the new matrix of pollutants is far more malignant, and there are no simple solutions in sight. Cone's superb and affecting delineation of the Arctic's chemical crisis and its consequences for us all is galvanizing and necessary. Donna Seaman
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